- The average rate of vertebrate species loss over the last century is up to 100 times higher than previous extinction rates.
- Under the most conservative estimate possible, the development of disappearing habitats and climate change will exterminate animal species within just three human lifetimes.
Earth is Now in its 6th Period of Mass Extinction
We are now officially in the 6th mass extinction with animals disappearing 100 times faster compared to previous extinction rates, according to the alarming new findings of a study published by Science Advances
The study was designed to determine how human activity over the past 500 years has impacted the extinction rates of mammals, fish, birds, reptiles and amphibians. They analysed the modern rates of vertebrate species extinction and compared them with a recently computed extinction rates, also known as background rates, for mammals. Background rates are the rate of species loss in the absence of any human impacts.
Cumulative vertebrate species recorded as extinct or extinct in the wild by the IUCN (2012). Dashed black curve represents the number of extinctions expected under a constant standard background rate of 2 E/MSY.
The study found a clear signal of elevated species loss which has markedly accelerated over the past couple of hundred years—such that life on Earth is commencing the Holocene extinction—its 6th mass extinction—event in its 4.5 billion year history. The last mass extinction occurred 66 million years ago with the end of the dinosaurs—this is the only one, however, where a single species is responsible for the destruction of all the others.
As short-sighted human activity destroys biodiversity, it disrupts pollination, water purification and availability, food systems and other critical ecosystem services that our beautiful, fascinating and culturally important living companions provide.
In the context of geological timescales, humans have produced a near instantaneous planetary-scale disruption with extinction events occurring the likes of which have not been seen on Earth for at least 66 million years.
Background Rates and Measurements
Measuring background rates is notoriously hard. Earlier estimates of extinction rates have been criticised for using assumptions that might overestimate the severity of the extinction crisis.
For example, most studies of modern extinction rates have been based on indirect estimates derived, such as, on the rates of deforestation and on species-area relationships. Or they use low background rate estimates which then serves to overestimate modern extinction rates because by comparison, current extinction rates appear more dramatic.
This time researchers used a past extinction rate that was twice as high as previous widely used estimates, so that they could establish extinction rates for species that were very conservative, with the understanding that whatever the rate of species lost has actually been, it could not be any lower.
This makes the findings even more significant because even with such conservative estimates, they find extinction rates are much higher than the background rate of extinction.
Study coauthor Anthony Barnosky, paleontologist at the University of California-Berkeley, stated that “Scientists never like to say anything for sure, but this is close as we’re ever going to get to saying; we’re certain that this is a huge problem”.
Approximately 1.3 million animals have been described since 1758—however, a WWF study last September found that the number of wild animals has declined by half since 1970. Let’s say that again:
In 45 years, the human condition on planet Earth has resulted in the vertebrate species population being cut in half.
Where to From Here
While previous mass extinctions were due to natural environmental causes, the Holocene extinction is occurring because of anthropogenic human activity—wherever on Earth humans have migrated, other species have gone extinct. While there’s no ecosystem or species that would naturally rely on human beings to exist and thrive, the industrialised human species has never respected nature nor worked to co-exist.
Much of human existence is anthropocentric, in that many believe this world was created solely for humanity to be used in any way we desire, that we are the only species that counts, and whose guiding instincts are selfishness, arrogance and an astounding ignorance of the laws of ecology.
The smaller percentage of the population aligns closer with biocentric views, where there is a respect of the inherent value that all living things have, an acknowledgement that we are part of nature (not in dominion), and that we exist with all other species on Earth—we are not superior to them—and that we are subject to the laws of ecology.
The window to avert a dramatic decay of biodiversity and the subsequent loss of ecosystems and both human and non-human life, is still possible, though it is rapidly closing.
We require harder lines on greenhouse gas emissions produced by fossil fuels with a full conversion to green energy globally. We need to move away from petroleum dependent services and products like transport and plastics that are polluting the air, land and ocean. We must relinquish the animal-based food system, which yields inefficient calorie results, but conducts an efficient destruction of our environment and our moral wellbeing.
The diminishment of biodiversity diminishes humanity. If the forests die, we die. If the ocean dies, we die. If the bees die, we die.
Going vegan is the quickest and most efficient way an individual can reduce their impact on the environment. By not supporting animal agriculture, you do not fund the industries who cause mass deforestation, pollution and drive climate change forward. Further, you stop supporting animal exploitation. Go green. Go vegan.